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  • Writer's pictureWendy Garcarz

The NHS Secret Weapon; Patient Engagement

Patient engagement is vital for improving the quality of care and outcomes for patients across health and social care.

It means involving patients and their families in decision-making about their care, treatment, and overall experience of healthcare services.

With the latest round of organisational changes there is a marked shift towards a more integrated approach in healthcare, based on collaboration, economies of scale, reducing health inequalities and promoting better health choices. This complex approach recognises that patients need to be at the centre of healthcare and that their preferences and needs should guide decisions about their care, but currently we are a long way off from that.

The NHS has recognised the importance of patient engagement and has introduced a number of initiatives to support it. The NHS Constitution sets out the rights and responsibilities of patients, and the NHS Long Term Plan commits to involving patients in decision-making about their care. Whilst it is a consideration in planning meetings it is not treated as a priority issue but more of a desirable after thought. Those working in this field of expertise often feel overlooked and frustrated that they hold a significant strategic lever that goes underutilised.

If we are to tackle the huge challenges faced by the NHS and Social Care then the engagement and support of patients is absolutely critical! They hold the key to sustainable solutions.

One of the key mechanisms that exists in communities to understand the health, wellbeing, and lifestyle choices of its residents is the primary care function led by General Practice and the multidisciplinary teams that surround them. Each GP Surgery is mandated to operate a Patient Participation Group. They are populated and run by patients from the practice and act as a conduit between the GP teams and patients to facilitate effective communication to improve local services and patient experience.

These groups are in a unique position to identify local community organisations and services that can enhance aspects of patients lives, offer feedback about services to their practice by highlighting areas of service excellence and gaps and foster productive relationships between patients and practices. These groups can also provide valuable insights into the lived experience their communities face and articulate their needs and priorities for health and care.

By investing in community development approaches the Integrated Care System (ICS) can empower people to build capacity, adopt healthier habits and have the confidence to influence health and wellbeing. If the existing mechanism of General Practice PPGs was used to create meaningful community involvement, future patient leaders could act as the conduit between service planners, providers and the local population.

I have developed such an approach supported with training materials, change management processes and built in coaching and mentoring programmes to mainstream this into the way local integrated systems handle their patient engagement. I have delivered it across a number of health and social care organisations with notable results.

The strategic goals it addresses are clear.

  • Improve outcomes in population health and healthcare

  • Tackle inequalities in outcomes, experience, and access

  • Enhance productivity and value for money

  • Help the NHS support broader social and economic development

Patient engagement can have a number of benefits for patients, including improved health outcomes, increased satisfaction with care, and greater empowerment and control over their own health. For the NHS, patient engagement can lead to more effective and efficient use of resources, improved service quality, and increased public trust and confidence in the healthcare system.

Overall, patient engagement is crucial to the success of the NHS, and efforts to increase patient involvement in decision-making about their care should continue to be a priority.

If this is an area you are interested in developing contact me for a discussion.

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